Camping at Burning Man

Burning Man is considered an extreme camping adventure. While it may not be as extreme as Basecamp at the foot of Mount Everest, it definitely has the potential for a lethal, if not highly uncomfortable, outcome. Much of preparing for Burning Man includes a serious exploration into camping knowledge needed to have a safe and healthy burn. Understanding this, it’s interesting to see the camp choices burners made in 2013.


Slightly more than half of all burners were members of camps whose locations were assigned by BM Org, implying these camps were organized around a pre-articulated theme. However, an equally significant group, nearly 44%, chose their own location; implying a healthy swath of individualism, adhoc themes, or missed registration deadlines.


The median camp size on the playa is somewhere between 22 and 24 individuals; implying a significant number of camps being fairly small while there were a comparable number of participants in camps of significant size. What this data reflects is the bifurcation of the people who camp alone or are informally organized with friends and those who are part of  theme camps. Nearly 12% of burners were in substantially large camps of 100 or more individuals. This was balanced nicely at the other extreme with almost 10% indicating they were a cozy camp of 1 or 2 individuals.

The organizing goals of the camp are rooted in the contribution the participants are making to the event. Smaller camps may be contributing booze, trinkets or playa hugs. Large theme camps, however, contribute mutant vehicles, art projects, performances, activities or music that might require hundreds of volunteer hours to setup and run. More importantly, these camps require potentially thousands of dollars in materials to create and transport art pieces, equipment and supplies to the playa. Camps can offer a community, shared resources and a collective on-playa mission but they also have some base requirements of their campers.

35% indicated not having any shared obligations towards their camp which, expectedly, is slightly below the percentage that did not have an official placement. The implication is that 65% are part of camps with significant obligations. Any one who has gone to Black Rock City will recognize that plenty of camps at Burning Man exist as true, big-city neighborhoods with groups of like-minded individuals sharing space, resources, shared purpose and community, playa style.


This 65% of participants chose camps where shared infrastructure, thereby shared cost and effort, was an important part of the equation. 46% of this group had required monetary dues, which was translated into building camp-specific infrastructure, transportation or inventory for gifts, food or drinks. 14% required work towards their obligations, and 14% needed fundraising tasks prior to arrival on the playa. Finally, 2% received some sort of scholarship, award or stipend which may have helped them afford to come and/or meet their camp responsibilities. These could include free tickets or even pay for workers that help make the event happen.

The sub-group paying camp-dues-only without any work requirement most likely includes a few plug-n-play camp participants. Plug-n-play camps are ones where all is provided for the participant. We can’t pinpoint the exact number, but these camps have inspired some controversy as these participants simply purchase their experience and may not be living many of the core principles such as “radical self-reliance.” Anecdotally, the number of participants having these curated experiences for a fee is small but the number of people who help fund an Art Car, Sound Camp or Tequila bar without significant obligations beyond funding seems relatively large.

In this next chart, we see that the larger the camp, the greater the obligations required. Fees and Work are most prevalent with the largest camps, but, interestingly enough, Fundraising is greatest in camps of 30 to 99 participants. As might be expected, smaller camps tend to have the largest percentage of people with no obligations whatsoever. 


Written by Priti Bali-Kahn

Edited by David Nelson-Gal aka Scribble



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